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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What does it mean to be alive?

As silly this question may seem, that serious and deep it is to the modern Philosophers. Childish questions are considered as Pre-Philosophical questions. The childish wandering of why he can’t have what others have has the most basic question about the socio-economical system of a society in which the child live. In fact, Philosophy begins with an ordinary question and ends with profound conclusions or leaves us with more complex questions. The question that, “what does it mean to be alive?” has brought by to public domain by Philosophical-Science fiction movie series, “Matrix” and then recently  by Science fiction movie, “Avatar”. Before, I go to questions posed by these movies, I like to quote Cornel Ronald West, a Professor of Philosophy at the Princeton University, “…..Every pleasure has its place, …social pleasure has its place, TV pleasure has its place….there are certain pleasure of the mind that cannot be denied. It is true that you are socially isolated because you are in library or in home and so on but you are intensely alive. In fact you are much alive than these folks walking on the streets of New York in crowd with no intellectual interrogation or questioning going on. If you read John Ruskin or Mark Twain or Herman Melville, you are almost to throw the book against the wall because you are so intensely alive that you need a break…….there are certain things that make us too alive, something like being too intensely in love that (one) can’t do anything….hard to back into everyday life, do you know what I mean?......”
OK, after learning, what professor means now come back to our movies, there is one thing common in both movies and that is the digital reality or living out of Physical reality once you are plugged into the digital reality. It poses a very serious question, what does really living means? Is a very engaging mental process like reading an interesting book as Professor said is being too intensely alive that one needs break? Or being plugged in a digital reality is more lively than bodily living that have a more disperse stimuli and most of the times routine or boring tasks?
Well, answering this question is not so easy because Philosophers like societies have been divided on this issue since known recorded history of humankind. You may have heard of Sybarites. In literature, Sybarites are synonymous with wealth and luxury. Sybaris was an early Greek colony of Italy  and by some luck and good policies like having good cultivable land and by giving citizenship to foreign settlers, it grew so much in wealth and refine luxuries that Sybarites become synonymous with wealth, refined luxury and pleasure seeking. On the other hand, there was another Greek colony in Italy by name of Croton and her people were quite opposite of Sybarites, liking to live very simple life of sobriety. Their people were famous for the Physical strength and in fact, they had a lot of victors at then Olympic games. What has added to the credit of Croton is the establishment of Pythagorean School here. Pythagoras, himself remained the governor of the Croton for a short period of time. Pythagoras had adapted an ascetic life style after visiting India and had a crowd following him and his way of life. These two colonies of Greeks were at odd with each other over different life styles which resulted in destruction of Sybaris by Croton Army in 510 BCE.
Though these two Greek colonies are now part of history but their rivalries are still alive among cultures, intellectuals and among ordinary people.  For thousands of years, the Philosophical notion was that “self” is something apart from body and life was mostly tied to the self. The body is what “self” was owned and it is what evident in our everyday usage of language like “My body”, My leg, my arm, my eyes and similarly my car, my phone, my shirt, my shoes and so on. This notion might be still intellectually very alive but some rival voices can be heard like those of Dr. Kimerer Lamothe, a Harvard Professor and the author of “What a Body Knows; finding wisdom in desire” that is using the term, “Bodily- self” to counter the traditional concept of “self”. Kimerer believes that to be more alive, one needs not to focus on the external stimuli but to listen to the wisdom of body. Though this is not as intense as those of Sybarites but it represents the majority of American concept of life, “Fun-centered life style”. It would not a wrong analogy if we consider, USA as modern representative of Sybarites. On other hand we need an analogy for Croton and I think Iranians, though are not a perfect one but is a good analogy of ancient Croton (Of course, Iranian do not have modern equivalent military strength of Croton but they are a good analogy in terms of life style). So somewhat we can say that the rivalry of Sybaris and Croton over life styles is still alive.
Coming back to our question, what does it mean to be alive? Imagine that someone is in coma ( his all senses are alive but the brain is unconscious), do you think, he will feel more alive, if we take him out to the soft spring breeze, to singing of birds, to voice of flowing water, to colors of butterflies dancing over flowers? Now look to other side of coin, consider a person with physical impairment like being deaf, dumb, blind or any other senses that have lost functionality, would he be more alive if we take him out?
Let’s take another example, Say, you are entering a restaurant with exotic foods that you have never tried before, wouldn’t you feel the aroma, tastes and texture or look with intensity? It is what break, means to senses. The same is true for mental activity. Wouldn’t you need some time to digest if you have an engaging dream? What about an engaging movie, music or story? I read with full excitement the “Alchemist” of Coelho Paulo that it was hard me to allow myself to go to bed without finishing it though my eyes were badly burning. The same is true about the Korean Dramas like those of “Jumong”, “Jewel in the Palace” and so on that sometimes, I miss, not watching like Korean dramas.
What is the conclusion of all these discussion? My conclusion, though it is still an open ending one is that being alive means living in duality of “self” and “bodily-self” with the knowledge that “bodily-self” has a serious finitudes and “self” has infinite dimensions. But at the same time realizing that infinity of “self” depends on “finitudes” of “bodily-self” and it is why we see the instability of digital reality or plugged in life in both movies, “Matrix” and “Avatar”. We can’t ignore our bodies and at the same time we can’t afford missing the freedom and infinity of the mental life. We have to keep them fresh by regular breaks :) ……..

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A key to the key challenges for teachers; Presentation

I don't think, it needs an explanation or description as person himself speaks................

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The biggest question to Hazara intellectuals….

Before posing the question, let me give you a brief background to the question,
In 1939, France declared war on Germany and made a land and sea blockade of Germany along with Britain but in less than a year in 1940, France fell to German forces. It was a national shock to French and a period of national humiliations and demoralization. The French started underground liberation movements. In 1944 the Allied forces invaded France and by the end of war in 1945, the France was again a free country. French people were in debt to Allied forces for their freedom. The painful defeat and becoming in debt to allied forces for their liberation, made French lose their historical honor and pride.
Out of the ashes of burned honor, two flames by name of Jean Paul Sartre, the father of existentialism and Simone de Beauvoir (Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir, often shortened to Simone de Beauvoir), the mother of feminism (She got this title after publishing her famous book, “Second Sex”) started burning again and warming the hearts that enlightened and shaped deeply the Philosophical and cultural course of the next half of the last century.
Jean Paul Sartre shared along with other French, the national demoralization and dishonoring. As a Philosopher, it made him to question the basic nature of human and introduce existentialism as a philosophy human nature by challenging the traditional philosophy of essentialism on the contrast. Similarly Simone de Beauvoir was also passed through same national trauma as Sartre and other French did. Simone as a companion of Sartre, not only shaped the existentialism but she became the mother of Feminism by giving Feminism a new meaning under light of existentialist philosophy.
Sartre’s existentialism and De Beauvoir’s Feminism were rebellion to the dominant Philosophies and traditions of times that from one side prepared Germans for aggression and from other side made French vulnerable to that aggression. The essentialism left people in despair by snatching the hopes from them by failing to explain the pains of great depression and following WWII. Existentialism was the Philosophy of Free will, choices and taking responsibility for freedom and Feminism was the Philosophy of self-autonomy. These Philosophies were making people to accept the pains as the outcome of their own acts and shortcomings and making them ready to take responsibility for their liberty by making choices and getting ready to face their consequences. I am not in total agreement with both philosophies yet they have important lessons for us.
Sartre and De Beauvoir didn’t close their eyes to those of French defeats but put their experiences and feelings into Philosophical packages of existentialism and Feminism. Of course, French lost the war but Sartre and De Beauvoir won France a way, honor and recognition that Allied Forces couldn’t get and that was winning the hearts and minds of people across continents.
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre are not alone to use Human pain and despair as a tool for a deep introspection into human nature. Siddhartha Gautama or what we know as a Buddha was another Philosopher (or Spiritual leader) who also used human pains and suffering as a tool to go deep into human nature and come up with a Philosophy of life that changed more than half of human population’s lives for thousands of years. Siddhartha was the prince of a small Kingdom (Kapilavastu) in today’s Nepal. One day out of his palace he saw an old man which made him depressed by making him to realize that everybody has to suffer from an old age. In order to explore more of human sufferings he started travelling across his kingdom and became deeply depressed by seeing people suffering from poverty, diseases and also seeing decaying bodies. In his travels, he found Sadhus, who were living an ascetic life in order to escape human sufferings. He quit his palace in search for a solution to human sufferings. He started to live and learn ascetic life style but soon learnt that this is not a solution and started meditating to find his own way and became Buddha (awakened) by finding nirvana and methods to attain nirvana.
Having in mind the Sartre, De Beauvoir and Siddhartha’s response to humiliation and suffering, what do you think their response would be, if they were belonging to a nation, whose 63% to 75% of populations have been massacred at one instance and then massacres continued for rest of coming one and quarter of century? How would be their responses if their nation were humiliated, mistreated and discriminated against by friends and foes equally?
The French was humiliated only for less than 6 years and produced Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and Siddhartha couldn’t see the pains and suffering that are common to all humankind…..
Compare to them the suffering of Hazaras,
Until 1885 Hazarajat was a self-ruling area, part of no country since early 1300, when red city of Bamiyan was destroyed by Mongols. When Tsarist Russia and British Empire needed a buffer zone to prevent the war between two expansionist empires, they created Afghanistan. The Hazaras wanted to maintain their self-ruling status which didn’t match the interests of both empires and British Empire helped Afghans to forcefully make Hazarajat part of Afghanistan and punish Hazaras by massacring 63-75% of population, repopulating their lands with Afghans and selling their children and women in open markets. The suffering of Hazaras didn’t end by dawning of 1900 as the plan of wiping out of Hazaras continued by every ruler of Afghanistan. The world is only aware of massacres of Taliban in Mazar and Bamiyan and less of those of Afshar (Kabul) by Massoud’s forces. The recent Target Killings in Quetta is another addition to massacres of Hazaras. Beside the migrations of Hazaras in search of safe place has stretched over one and a quarter century. No other nation has suffered for so long (nonstop) and with such intensity.
This description of suffering of Hazaras might be repetition for a lot of people but for a Hazara, they are a bitter reality of everyday life. I am asking the Hazara intellectuals, why they haven’t reflected over suffering of Hazaras? Do they lack the heart of Siddhartha or do they lack the deep sense of humiliation that Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir suffered from?
There is no doubt that no one else have experienced the sufferings that Hazaras have suffered and there might be very few nations that can understand truly our pains yet why Hazara intellectuals failed to use such suffering to go deep into human suffering and bring to humanity what Sartre, Simon de Beauvoir and Siddhartha brought?
THIS IS THE BIGGEST QUESTION TO THE HAZARA INTELLECTUALS…………. (I should acknowledge that one of our sisters from Kabul University posed the identical question to me and asked how could I have left the sufferings of Hazaras into blank? I should apologize to my nation that I couldn’t yet succeed to pay my part in reducing their suffering :(